Lincoln Blu-ray Review
Steven Spielberg spent over 10 years bringing LINCOLN to the big screen, with most of that time focused on convincing Daniel Day-Lewis to play the 16th President. The effort was well worth it, because if it wasn’t for Day-Lewis’s brilliant, amazing, Oscar-winning performance, LINCOLN would have been easily forgotten in the long line of historical reenactments that educate, but don’t entertain. But as good as Day-Lewis’s performance was, I can’t help but wonder if the film would have been more successful if Spielberg had widened his scope to include more of Lincoln’s life than his struggle to get the 13th Amendment passed.
Roughly 90% of the film is centered around Abraham Lincoln’s political maneuvering to get the 13th Amendment passed through the House of Representatives. I don’t want to give a history lesson, but for those that don’t know, the 13th Amendment is the one that abolishes slavery. Obviously, most of the Northern states are for it while most of the Southern states are against it. That sets in motion a game of politics in which Lincoln makes promises and deals with various Representatives to get their support. But most of the swindling is actually done by W.N. Bilbo (James Spader), Robert Latham (John Hawkes) and Richard Schell (Tim Blake Nelson), who go around to the Representatives voting against the amendment and try to convince/bargain with them to vote in favor of it.
There are some side stories in the film that achieve varying degrees of success. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln is criminally underused as the son that wants to go fight in the Civil War. Sally Field gives a tremendous performance as Mary Todd Lincoln, but her contributions had little impact to the story, other than to give the audience sympathy for Lincoln for having such a crazy wife. Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens was brilliant, but at the end of the day, Jones was playing what he always plays; a tough, grumpy old man that we’ve seen him play before. As great as the performances were, none of the supporting characters had a well developed storyline that the audience could really get behind. We got barely a glimpse into their life and then we went back to the political bickering.
Aside from the slow, monotonous, narrow scope of the film, there is one glaring problem with LINCOLN that I’ve struggled to get past; the ending. I won’t declare a spoiler warning here because if you don’t know what happens to President Lincoln, then you should be reading a history book, not surfing the internet. At the end of the film, we have a perfect shot of Lincoln walking out of the White House while one of his African-American servants watches him leave. It’s a nice, beautiful ending that fit the film perfectly. But Spielberg couldn’t leave it alone and so he goes into a montage showing the aftermath of the President’s assassination and some of the reactions to it. The problem with that is that the movie was so narrowly focused on the 13th Amendment and not on Lincoln’s life that showing the assassination aftermath was a very amateur, Hollywood thing to do that tainted the entire film. I can’t believe that Spielberg would have been that out of touch with his own movie 20 years ago, but alas, that’s the Spielberg we have today.
LINCOLN is a bit of a history lesson, but it’s a must-see movie for anyone that loves great acting and long monologues in movies. Daniel Day-Lewis was magnificent as President Lincoln and watching him give long monologues in one long shot is a thing to marvel at. But the film isn’t what I’d consider “enjoyable” in that I doubt I’ll be able to watch it again. The pacing is slow and the subject matter is dry, making LINCOLN a respectable but ultimately forgettable film.
Video: I can’t imagine LINCOLN on any format but Blu-ray. With the heavy use of shading and lack of lighting, only Blu-ray can make the black levels shine through appropriately. LINCOLN looks fantastic.
Audio: LINCOLN’s audio is also impressive.
Steven Spielberg refuses to do commentaries, but he usually makes up for it by including some extensive making-of featurettes or even documentaries. Unfortunately, LINCOLN gets the standard treatment and I was left wanting more out of this Blu-ray.
The Journey to Lincoln (9:02): Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Tony Kushner, Daniel Day-Lewis, Rick Carter and Doris Kearns Goodwin introduce the film and give a brief rundown of how the film finally came to be.
A Historic Tapestry: Richmond, Virginia (3:58): This is very similar to the above featurette, only this time they focus specifically on why the shot the film in Richmond, VA.
In the Company of Character (10:02): Several cast members show up to gush about the other actors. Nearly a dozen actors are mentioned in this ten minute featurette, making it a little too short, which makes it a little disappointing.
Crafting the Past (10:57): The production and costume designers discuss their methods for creating the sets and costumes, which involved a lot of research and attention to detail. Again, this is way too short.
Living with Lincoln (27:01): This is the only feature with some meat to it and it covers Spielberg and his crew working on LINCOLN and the extreme measures they took to make the film as accurate as possible.
In Lincoln’s Footsteps (16:59): This is kind of a hodgepodge featurette and covers some miscellaneous topics like the score and the challenges of making this type of movie.